After more than a month in Cusco, I recently got the chance to get out of the city and explore the surrounding area. Over the course of three days I documented a festival, Incan ruins, and an agro-tourism project for Apus Peru, an adventure travel company based here in Cusco. The stories and photos I worked on for Apus will appear on their blog in the next few weeks.
My first adventure happened last Thursday when I reported on the Cruz Velacuy (Vigil of the Crosses) festival. It was difficult to track down information on this event and I was at a loss until I discovered that one of Apus’ staff members had an aunt who was organizing festivities in a town about 45 minutes outside of Cusco. She also had a brother, Jhon, who agreed to act as my guide.
Early in the morning we caught a bus out of Cusco which took us to Izcuchaca. There we rode a moto-taxi from the city center to his aunt’s house where preparations for the fiesta were already underway. At least a half-dozen women and a couple men were preparing food for later in the day. Jhon and I estimated that there must have been three whole pigs in various stages of preparation.
The next several hours were a blur of parades, Mass, and dancing. When we arrived back at the house, it was time to eat. First up, big hunks of fried pork with brown bread. Being included in the meals and fiesta was incredibly humbling, as most Peruvians are not exactly people of unlimited resources.
A hearty tripe soup followed the pork. When I felt like I couldn’t take another bite, they brought out the chicha, a kind of fermented corn drink. If I learned one thing from this trip, it’s that I am incapable of partying like a Peruvian. Jhon and I took our leave right as the dancing (and drinking) was kicking off.
On Saturday, I left Cusco by a slightly different route and my wife, Sonya, also got to come along. After picking up another photographer who is working for Apus, we made our way to the Moray. This is an ancient agriculture project nestled high in the mountains above the Sacred Valley.
The Moray is made up of a series of circular terraces once used to preserve rich top-soil. Now the site attracts more tourists than farmers and a lot of those tourists find the appeal more spiritual than agrarian. Convinced that the geometry of the place has mystical properties, they are often spotted holding hands at the lowest level and occasionally participating in some scream-therapy (the place has great acoustics).
Our second stop was a series of evaporating pools used for harvesting salt. These pools are carved into the side of a narrow canyon and predate the Incas. The salt comes from a saline spring and reaches the pools via a series of channels. The flow is controlled by placing rock barriers at critical intersections along the channels.
After a long day of exploring we drove to the town of Ollantaytambo. This quaint village is the last stop before trekkers take to the Inca Trail and as such, is well stocked with all the camping equipment, woolen headgear and walking sticks you could shake a… well… walking stick at.
Night brought out the stars and the “super moon” bathed the rugged mountains in blue light. After dinner we took time to admire the city’s ruins under nocturnal illumination. Getting away from the noise and exhaust of Cusco’s streets was a nice change. I’ll take the splash of streams over the grunting of buses any day.
The next morning we had a little more time to explore Ollantaytambo before going to the Chichubamba Agro-tourism project located near Urubamba. Here we got to visit several artisans’s houses and learn more about their craft.
I thought the handmade ceramic demonstration was particularly interesting. It probably goes without saying but Sonya was pretty fond of the chocolate making portion of the tour. After lunch, we rode back to Cusco and took the rest of the day to relax and start editing photos from the trip.